FETCHING FLOWERS

Can you find Barbara Kalen in this photo? The 25th annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show had a huge turnout of flowers and viewers. See more show photos in Features below.

Photo by Chelsea Bennett

UTU local approves contract

Teamsters, WP&YR meeting with federal mediator again

By JEFF BRADY
The railroad has settled with one of its labor unions, while it is back before the National Mediation Board with the other.
The membership of United Transportation Union Local 1626 voted last week to approve a new contract with the White Pass & Yukon Route.
Wade Brown, local chairman, said all three crafts – engineers, conductors and brakemen – approved the contract. The 32 members of the union had been working without a new agreement since Dec. 31, 2005.
Brown said the new agreement will last through 2010.
“It’s nice to have it behind us,” Brown said. “It’s a weight off our shoulders.”
Brown said the new agreement calls for wage increases of about 20 percent over the length of the contract. They received retroactive pay for this year’s work prior to the Aug. 15 ratification date, he said, but last year’s profit-sharing bonuses were “bought out” by the company in lieu of a retroactive wage increase for 2006.
When asked if the railroad were phasing out all profit-sharing bonuses, WP&YR President Gary Danielson said “terms of the contract are not for public comment.”
He offered the following statement: “We are very pleased about the resolution of the bargaining agreement between the UTU and the White Pass and Yukon Route. While sometimes they seem to take forever to complete, we finally have an agreement and we would like to thank all the members of the UTU for the professionalism they have shown, while without a contract, and they have operated safely and with a great attitude of customer service with our passengers.”
Danielson added that a meeting with the Teamsters and the National Mediation Board in Washington. D.C. is on schedule for Thursday and Friday, and “we hope for an agreement to be reached that is mutually acceptable to both parties.”

WP&YR brakeman Jay McClendon waves his time card as a signal to the engineer to back up slowly to make a coupling between two passenger cars for the Broadway Dock train on Tuesday of this week. Jeff Brady

The more than 50 railroad shops and track workers with Teamsters Local 959 have also been working without a contract and have been conducting a public information campaign over the past two weeks.
Danielson would not comment on the orange Teamsters Local 959 handbills that were distributed last week.
One side said “Teamster Rail Workers Demand Fair Contract with WP&YR,” but then underline that “This is NOT a strike. This handbill is for informational purposes only.”
The flip side of the flyer went into more detail:
“• Nineteen months without a contract
• The company is making NO effort to reach an agreement.
• Forced to live with 2005 wages. Last raise was January 1, 2005.
• The company refuses to maintain current levels of our health care.
• Stockholders enjoy record profits while rail workers endure 2005 wages and benefits.”
It asks for public support but said it is “NOT asking for any employees or suppliers of the WP&YR Railroad to withhold services, or any customers to withhold their business to the railroad.”
Brown said his members sympathize with the Teamsters in their plight. Just as it did with his members, not having a contract for so long is “weighing heavily on Teamsters and we hope it will work out for them.”
Brown said the UTU and the company could not see “eye to eye on a number of issues” for a long time, and also had to go into meetings with a federal mediator.
He said the mediator “got us moving in the right direction,” though it was the two sides that came up with their own agreement.

Skagway teen rescued after father, friend die in plane crash

A Skagway boy was rescued more than two days after his father and another man did not return from a short flight to scout game in northeast Alaska, officials said last week.
The men were searching the area for Dall sheep, leaving the pilot’s son, Mickey Wilson, 15, at their Cane Creek hunting camp in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, about 50 miles north of Arctic Village. Their plane crashed on a steep mountain side.
The boy was spotted signaling SOS by a passing plane late in the afternoon on Wednesday, Aug. 15. The plane landed, and discovered the boy had been alone since that previous Monday afternoon, Alaska Air National Guard Capt. Guy Hayes said in a media release.
The bodies of Steve Wilson, 41, and Eric Lochman, 36, both of Gustavus, were later found in the wreckage after Mickey Wilson alerted rescuers to the direction that his father’s plane had flown.
The boy and two adults had taken the single-engine Maule to their hunting camp on Aug. 13. Shortly after arriving, the two adults left for what was supposed to be a 30-minute flight to scout for sheep. The plane never returned.
The younger Wilson, who had a rifle and plenty of camping and survival gear, conducted his own search but could not locate his dad’s plane. He used tree branches, space blankets and other material to spell out an S.O.S., according to the family, and luckily caught the attention of the passing plane after more than two days of being alone.
An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crew from Eielson Air Force Base arrived in the area Thursday, Aug. 16 and eventually found the wreckage of the plane. It had crashed at the 4,000-foot level on a steep, rocky mountain side and was consumed by fire, said Clint Johnson, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The boy was flown to Eielson Air Force Base and reunited with his sister, Brandy, who has been living in Fairbanks, about 300 miles south of the hunting camp. The siblings flew to Skagway last weekend to be with their mother, Teresa, and have also spent time this week with family in Gustavus.
Mickey Wilson, a sophomore at Skagway High, spent summers with his dad after his parents divorced, and they usually made a fall hunting trip before he started school here.
Steve Wilson grew up in Gustavus and began his commercial flying career as a Skagway Air Service pilot, working for his former father-in-law, Mike O’Daniel. Wilson eventually started his own Gustavus-based airline, Air Excursions, which he later sold. In recent years, he operated Wilson Air, a charter service, and was a respected pilot throughout the region. Lochman was a family friend who owned Fairweather Construction in Gustavus. Both men were highly regarded in their community.
Services for Steve Wilson are being held today in Gustavus (see obituary). – The Associated Press & Skagway News reports

Mayor breaks tie to place seasonal sales tax on ballot
Instead of zero and 6%, winter tax would be 3%, summer 5%

By JEFF BRADY
Despite pleas from some business owners that the community would be sending a bad message by voting on a seasonal sales tax increase, a divided Skagway Borough Assembly passed an ordinance last week placing such a measure on the Oct. 2 ballot.
The breakdown of the sales tax proposal changed from first reading. As originally drafted, it would have had voters looking at a increase to 6 percent in the second and third quarters (summer), while zeroing out the tax in the first and fourth quarters (winter). But after hearing from business owners in the audience on Aug. 16, that language was changed to a 5 percent tax in the summer and 3 percent in the winter. A new exemption on food items remained in both versions.
Still, it took a vote from Mayor Tom Cochran to break a tied assembly to place the measure on the ballot.
The original 6 percent proposal took a lot of hits during the citizens comment portion of the meeting.
Gift shop owner John Farnan said having the tax go to 6 percent in summer and then zero in winter would send the message that Skagway was “targeting tourists.”
Year-round massage therapist Donna Powell said most of her business comes in the summer, and the tax would mean she would have to raise prices to absorb it. She said she didn’t mind paying taxes year-round.
Monica Carlson, a local tour manager and former city councilwoman, said Skagway could be losing 50,000 passengers next year, and the timing of the increase was bad.
Gallery owner Bud Rauscher said the ships themselves are the number one competition for local businesses, as they have sales at sea on the way back. “Raising the tax to 6 percent will hurt my business,” he said. “At 4 percent I can point to what it is used for.”
Jewelry store owner Robert Mirpuri said local stores compete with Ketchikan and Juneau, where there are caps on sales tax for large purchases. “Instead of getting 4 percent of something, we’ll get 6 percent of nothing,” he predicted.
Later, Bert Bounds said the tax increase would hurt local rentals, and Gayla Hites, who owns a tour company, coffee shop and gift store, said the city could be losing out to places like Icy Strait and Hobart Bay. She urged the assembly to hold off to see what the newly implemented state cruise ship tax brings to Skagway.
Farnan added that the cruise tax petition sponsors predicted $2.5 million a year for Skagway. And Carlson questioned the need. “If you don’t need it, don’t put it out there,” she said.
To that, Cochran and some Skagway assembly members explained the need.
“The fact remains that the cost to run this community is increasing,” Cochran said. “There is a need.”
But Assembly member Mike Korsmo said he could not support 0 percent in winter. “There has to be a buy-in by local residents,” he said, because sales tax proceeds fund programs at the school and residents benefit from the mill rate being “bought down” every year.
Assembly member L.C. Cassidy said she also wasn’t comfortable with the proposed breakdown, and urged the assembly to “hold off a while longer” to see what becomes of the state’s head tax.
Finance Chair Dan Henry then made a motion to change the percentages to 5 percent in the summer quarters and 3 percent in the winter. Defending the seasonal breakdown, he said the “spin” from the audience didn’t take into account the fact that tourism impacts on Ketchikan and Juneau are far less than they are in Skagway, which sees a daily population increase of up to 1,200 percent when cruise visitors are in town.
Assembly member Dave Hunz said he would support just changing it to 5 percent year-round, “because the need is there,” but he could not support the seasonal switch. Korsmo replied that they could still have sales tax holidays in winter.
When they voted on the amendment, it was supported by Henry, Korsmo and Colette Hisman, while Hunz, Cassidy and Mark Schaefer voted against it. Cochran voted for it .
Moments later, the breakdown remained unchanged for the vote on the full ordinance.
“How about that?” Cochran said. “I’m going to vote yes and leave it up to the citizens.”
Voters also will see a proposition on bonding up to $5 million for the new clinic (see borough digest).

BOROUGH DIGEST

Thin candidate list
All elected officials who drew the short three-month terms after the special borough formation election in June have signed up to run for full terms this October.
Deadline for filing candidate papers was Aug. 13, and the Oct. 2 municipal ballot will see incumbent Darren Belisle as the only school board candidate.
Incumbent Skagway Borough Assembly members L.C. Cassidy and Mark Schaefer filed for the two three-year assembly seats, and will be challenged by one other, Mavis Irene Henricksen.

Clinic bond on ballot
The Skagway Borough Assembly on Aug. 16 unanimously passed an ordinance placing a proposition on the Oct. 2 ballot that will ask voters permission to issue up to $5 million in general obligation bonds for construction of the new Dahl Memorial Clinic.
The assembly plans to use the money as a match toward grant funds to build the new clinic, now estimated at between $8 million and $9 million.
Under public comment, local resident Steve Hites questioned the high pricetag for the new clinic and the need for nine exam rooms. He said he recently had a long conversation with his father, Dr. Jim Hites, who has served as a locum in several Alaska communities. Since Skagway is a “stabilize and evac.” facility, it could get by with three exam rooms and an operating room, he said. Hites related that his dad commented that the new clinic would just have “a lot of people working there who aren’t very busy.”
Bert Bounds agreed that the new clinic probably was over-designed, but recognized the need for it. After working on the McCabe City Hall and Museum renovation – the last project the community bonded – he urged the borough to keep a close eye on the costs. “Let’s use our heads this time,” he said.
Clinic Board President John Warder said the design has come from a series of public meetings, and said the need is there. With its current five rooms, there were days this past July when people were turned away, he said.
To leverage grant funds, they also need to be able to offer other services in the building, like dentistry and mental health counseling. “Right now the mental health waiting area is outside under the eaves in the rain,” he said.
Irene Henricksen said the clinic has been designed for the next 30 years, replacing one that outgrew itself not long after it was built in the 1960s. “This bonding and paying for it over 30 years is the only sensible way,” she added.
Dakota Hankin, new director of the Skagway Development Corp., also said it was needed. Recently she spent $200 for a medical visit to Juneau that could have stayed in the community with the new clinic.
Mayor Tom Cochran and Assembly Finance Chairman Dan Henry said construction costs go up every year that the city waits. In discussions with financial planner Skip Elliott, Henry said the preferred term would be 25 years at 4.66 percent.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said he appreciated Hites’ comments but noted that bonding the project is necessary, and that federal dollars are getting tight. With the borough passing a bond issue, the Denali Commission and Rasmuson Foundation will be more inclined to help the community build the new clinic.
Before the vote, Assembly member L.C. Cassidy said the community has already been stressed financially, struggling to give money to the school annually. Dave Hunz added that the building needs to accommodate future growth, and Colette Hisman commented that they will need to formulate a letter to voters that “will help it pass.”

Land lottery passes
The assembly adopted its “plan of attack” for disposing lands along Dyea Point, but with several amendments. The sale date remains undetermined, but the ordinance passed unanimously with these highlights:
• The seven lots will be offered via lottery to anyone 18 years or older who buys a $100 ticket. Prospective buyers must also be current on all payments or debts to the borough.
• Terms will be 7 percent down, with a 12-year note, at 7 percent interest.
• There will be a 10 percent discount for cash up front. This was suggested by John Warder, who said it was an incentive when he bought property from the city during the hillside lottery 10 years ago.

Assessors show how it’s done

Prior to the August 16 meeting of the Skagway Borough Assembly, members watched a presentation from city assessor Horan and Co. about how the assessment process works.
Some assessments on city leases were called into question last spring when it was discovered that the valuations for those “possessory interest” leases had not been adjusted for several years. The firm apologized for the oversight and said they would be updating all valuations for leases of government property this year.
Mayor Tom Cochran introduced Charles Horan and Bill Ferguson from the Sitka-based firm, asking them to show their process for doing assessments and clearing up any questions that people in Skagway may have.
Horan started with a description of his background doing assessments for Skagway since 1976. Ferguson has been involved in the local assessments for the past 20 years. Horan did most of the talking, saying they enjoyed coming up to Skagway and that it was important that they maintain a public trust with the community.
“We’re sort of like umpires,” Horan said, “Third party, disinterested.” He said they have no political or personal connections in the community.
Coming up with assessment values is a “combination of art and science,” he added, and then walked through how they come up with a valuation. Basically, they look at the history of recent sales in the market to come up with “a full and true value.” This involves splitting up buildings and land, looking at replacement costs, square footage, depreciation rates, the condition of a building, whether there have been remodeling or additions.
They look at building permits and recent sales, checking to see where the selling prices fell in relation to the assessed values.
Every year they look at the sales and then decide if the land or building valuations are too low or high for an area of town. For example, after looking at three sales on the hillside, one of which was 21 percent higher than the assessed value, they decided on a 10 percent increase for land in that area.

Charles Horan stops in the middle of his presentation to answer a question. JB

“Another guiding principle is ‘don’t lead the market,’” Horan said, adding that three sales was not enough for a major increase.
When there aren’t a lot of sales, the values stay pretty level, he noted. But there have been some major adjustments downtown (50 percent) after big sale years in 2000 and 2003.
The entire town was re-evaluated in 1976, 1986, 1996 and “is probably overdue,” he added, noting that the state assessors have recently recommended re-evaluations every six years.
The state assessors have been called to Skagway to address a complaint about the Stowaway and Skagway Fish Co. lease evaluations that were questioned last spring. A special meeting was held Thursday after this issue went to press.
A handout explained the “reversionary method” that Horan and Co. use for calculating the possessory interest in privately rented, tax-exempt government property. There are 29 such properties in Skagway, ranging in size from the National Park Services leased buildings to the huge waterfront lease that White Pass has with the city.
Horan acknowledged that “We have not been paying a lot of attention to possessory interest.... we haven’t looked at every lease, every year.”
But he added that they corrected the two errors in the restaurant evaluations along Congress Way and now will be looking at lease valuations on an annual basis.
He said they make mistakes from time to time, but for the past two years, all appeals about assessments have been resolved between owner and assessor before the Board of Equalization meeting.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

THORNY TWANG – A porcupine perches on Wild Bill Simon’s guitar case after wandering into Moe's Frontier Bar last week. See Special Feature below.

Photo by Dylan Healy

SPECIAL FEATURE: A porcupine walks into a bar...

• GARDEN CITY: Photos and prize winners from the 25th annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show

• FISH THIS!: A quiet reminder - column by Andrew Cremata

• DERBY DAYS: Photos and results from the 2007 Pat Moore Memorial Game Fish Derby

• SPORTS & REC: 'Pullen Poachers' caught on camera; Bears, bears everywheres: protection for 'spirit bear'; SHS cross-country season begins

HEARD ON THE WIND: Real live people and more...

• OBITUARY: Steve Wilson

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